Saturday, November 25, 2006

100 Huhs

The New York Times has released its annual list of 100 Notable Books of the Year, one I usually peer at to see if there's anything on it that I read and/or liked. Hold onto your hats; I've actually read two on the list: one I loved, and one I loathed -- but other than that, zilch.

After last year's mess, I was hoping that someone in the editorial department would have said, "Hey, guys, maybe we should write blurbs that HELP sell more copies of these books." Something happened; they've reverted from babelesque hip-speak of last year to their standard snot-speak, which of course has made the New York Times the veritable stanchion of unimaginative elitism.

Honestly, I don't think you could drive the average book buyer away from these books any faster than if you jumped in front of the shelves and waved an open vial of anthrax. For example:

1. "....unsettling and blackly funny vignettes" -- Last time I checked, unsettling was not funny, even blackly. Vignette must be the latest trope, whatever the hell a trope is.

2. ".... A hefty, brilliant volume" -- Does no one at the Times listen to Clapton anymore? With a story, like a penis, it's not about size but in the way that you use it. Although (call me psychic) I'm sure this one holds open the laundry room door with no problem.

3. "....Old grievances drive the plot of this novel" -- That's the answer to Literary Meanings for $500. The question: "What is a transparent ax-grinder, Alex?"

4. "....A structurally experimental road-trip novel" -- Experiment on your own dime, pal. Better yet, use it to hire a therapist and get over writing badly-disguised Kerouac fanfic.

5. "....two exquisitely shaped novellas" -- So, shouldn't that make this list 101 Notable Books of the Year, then? Or 99 Notable Books and 2 Novellas?

6. "....this dark-humored novel" -- Since they already used blackly funny and don't want to repeat themselves. Up next: Murkily mirthsome, duskily tittery and low-light laughable.

7. "....The third volume, remarkable for its breadth and detail" -- I'm betting the writer for #6 had to read it for a quote, right? That's what put her into the bad mood.

8. "....a schoolboy's story." -- I'm sorry, but maybe you boys in editorial didn't get that memo from the Author's Gild. We only use "schoolboy's story" as a deadly insult to another writer, i.e.: I cannot believe they actually paid money for this stupid little schoolboy's story.

9. "....a moral framework" -- I have no idea what this means. The original outline for the ten commandments? Ted Haggard's ministry? Catholic scaffolding? What? (Also, why are we using the word "moral" so much? If you want to lure the hard red right into the stores, try substituting purpose-driven or inspirational and decorate it with little doves and burning Bushes. Well, okay, that last part was for my personal amusement, but still.)

10. "....The Nobel laureate tells her life story" -- I won't listen to this from drunks at writer conferences, so why would I pay $26.95 for it?

11. "....complicated sexual algebra" -- No. I know you guys are trying to be clever, but NO. You are not allowed to pair something as wonderful as sex with freaking algebra.

12. "....How to read with writerly sensitivity" -- Obviously, not written by me.

13. "....An artful journalist cross-dresses" -- but still can't get her pretend domestic partner on her medical insurance plan. Then she takes off the penis suit and mourns the life she never lived. Oh, the suffering. (Waitress? Check please.)

14. "....A panoramic moral analysis" -- Panoramic immediately makes me think of those 4" tall 48" wide photos of Grand Canyon vacations that camera nuts are always giving you. "Look, you can see the entire Snake River from start to finish!" Please. I've faked orgasms that were more thrilling. And there's that moral word again. Why not tag it as immoral? I'd buy an immoral analysis in a heartbeat, wouldn't you?

15. "....In her effectively elliptical novel" -- Does that mean...the novel is...filled with...these stupid...things...? Or is it shaped like this: ()

16. "....this parablelike novel" -- Excuse me, parablelike? You're the New York Times, for God's sake. Stop using words that don't exist.

17. "....Stories of understated realism" -- As story collections went, it was sort of real, but not so you'd notice. It was, you see, many brave paddles secretly angled to propel literature's fine boat up the mighty river of How It Should Be into LaLaLand, where the upstanding overly-educated people run things, because they alone know that physical objects are impermanent representations of unchanging ideas, and that ideas alone give true knowledge. And we the inferior dumbasses, being so caught up with playing with our physical objects and doing the actual gruntwork in the world and all, should let them. Uh-huh.

17a. Somebody IM Matt Cheney, he'll want to be all over this one.

18. ".... in this debut novel of global misunderstanding." -- So who is going to understand it? Extra-terrestrials?

19. ".... this nimble, satirically chiding novel." -- Only the Brits are allowed to use the words like nimble and chiding, as they're the only ones who can say them without sounding like effete dorks.

20. "....This novel's hero, a ghost, looks back ruefully on his suicide" -- Suggested subtitle: The Lovely Slitted Wrists. Oooooo, how original.

20a. It's also now official: I am tired of dead protagonists.

20b. I mean it. No more of this Sebolderdash. You want me to purchase your book, it has to have a living, breathing protagonist in it. Or a vampire protagonist. Undead okay, dead not okay.

20c. This is non-negotiable.

and finally, the ultimate in boring blurbs:

"A nameless protagonist grapples with aging, physical decline and impending death in this slender, elegant novel.": The Old Man and Medicare Part C!

Anyway, I will recommend one novel from this esteemed list as deserving of the recognition: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. That's the one I loved, and may it nab the author another NBA.


  1. Anonymous12:18 AM

    Thank you for the wonderful laugh, PBW. Much more interesting than the original NYT article. :D

    I haven't read a single book on that list... and recognized only a couple of names. And I thought I was an avid reader.

    SHAME on me. ;p

  2. Simply, utterly, dreadful.

  3. Anonymous8:50 AM

    Wow. I work in a bookstore and I only recognized about five of these titles. And you are right - those descriptions couldn't be any worse.
    There seems to be a theme of car crashes and major catastrophies in that list. I wonder if its creators were having a Really Bad Day.

  4. Your take on things, as usual, PBW, is unique and hilarious as all get out!

    PS Thanks for answering my Friday Twenty question yesterday. :)

  5. Oh, God, is it sick that I immediately had a story idea combining sex and algebra? At least it wasn't calculus. I'd have to check myself in to a padded room on that one.

  6. After reading that list, it becomes increasingly clear to the lot of us why everyone runs screaming to the bookstore when a new Harry Potter comes out. It also helps explain why I've switched primarily to reading ebooks and romantic smut--I can get the sex without the algebra. :P

  7. Nope I haven't read one notable book this year. ;-) GREEEAAATT

  8. Thanks for the laughs! L)

  9. Anonymous10:59 PM

    Never heard of any of them. Sound boring to me except maybe the Jane Goodall one.

  10. Anonymous9:14 AM

    "15. "....In her effectively elliptical novel" -- Does that mean...the novel is...filled with...these stupid...things...? Or is it shaped like this: ()"

    My favourite. :)

    Also, I'm aware I won one of your contests here like ... a YEAR back, but I couldn't claim it because I was kind of homeless at the time and had no address to give you to send it to. I hope you gave the prize to someone who could enjoy it. :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.